REPORT : 70 percent of Alpine snow could disappear by the end of the century


The planet has warmed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1800s, and as a result, snow is melting. In the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere.

Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s, and if climate change is not reined in, two-thirds of European ski resorts will be likely to close by 2100.

The same could happen in the United States, where in the Northeast, more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters.

As far for the Western part of the country, it will lose an estimated 25 to 100 percent of its snowpack by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed — reducing the snowpack in Park City, Utah, to zero and relegating skiing to the top quarter of Ajax Mountain in Aspen.

The facts are straightforward: The planet is getting hotter.

Snow melts above 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Alps are warming two to three times faster than the worldwide average, possibly because of global circulation patterns.

Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years, with the strongest trends in the Northern regions of the country. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, and this winter is already looking to be one of the driest on record — with California at just 12 percent of its average snowpack in January, and the Pacific Northwest at around 50 percent.

Artificial snow-making now helps to cover 88 percent of American ski resorts, and has become the stopgap measure to defend against the early effects of climate change. Snow-making requires a tremendous amount of electricity and water, though, so it’s unlikely that snow guns will be our savior.

In the Alps, snow-making uses more water in the winter than the entire city of Vienna, about 500,000 gallons of water per acre.

Ski areas like Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin seed clouds with silver iodide to make it snow, but that won’t help much when it gets warmer. When it does, whatever the clouds bring will fall as rain.

With several dry winters back to back, the ski industry is waking up.

Last spring, 108 ski resorts, along with 40 major companies, signed the Climate Declaration, urging federal policy makers to take action on climate change.

A few weeks later, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, stating, “Mountain communities worry about what smaller snowpacks will mean for tourism — and then, families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it will mean for their drinking water.”

As much as 70 percent of Alpine snow could disappear by the end of the century as global warming increasingly cuts in on the annual ski season.

That’s the conclusion of Swiss researchers in a paper relying on three-dimensional modeling to understand how much snow could be saved if countries deliver on the Paris agreement to tackle climate change.

The Alps would still lose about 30 percent of snow cover by 2100 even if countries limit temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius, according to the research in The Crysosphere, a journal published Thursday by the European Geosciences Union.

That would require emissions to be cut in half by the middle of this century.

Losses may reach 70 percent if no action is taken to tackle the issue, and snow would virtually vanish at about a quarter of the Alps ski resorts that are below 1,200 meters (3,940 feet), according to a press release accompanying the scientific paper.

“The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions control by how much,” said Christoph Marty, lead-author, from WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, which is based in Davos.

Worst-Case Scenario Detailed

Fickle weather patterns, such as the persistent high pressure responsible for dry conditions over the Alps in December, may be just one sign of things to come as the effects of climate change take hold.

That month produced the least snow in Switzerland since record-keeping began more than 100 years ago. Holiday operators let vacationers switch to slopes with snow-cover.

“Since many Alpine villages are heavily dependent on winter tourism, the economy and society of regions with such tourism centers will suffer,” said Sebastian Schlogl, also from SLF.

On the plus side, less snow would reduce road accidents in the area as well as airport closures, according to the researchers.


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